Google to face shareholders on censored ‘Dragonfly’ search in China

Another day, another shareholder suit. This time it’s Google in the spotlight.

Shareholders have tabled a resolution which, if passed, would demand Google put the brakes on its controversial search engine efforts in China. The program, internally dubbed “Dragonfly,” is said to be a censorship-friendly search engine with the capability to hide results at the behest of Beijing, which administers one of the most restrictive internets in the world.

The project remains largely secret, amid an internal upheaval and political pressure from the Trump administration to scrap the effort, but was later acknowledged by Google chief Sundar Pichai, describing China as an “important” market.

The resolution, set to be voted on at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday, would instruct Google to conduct and publish a human rights impact assessment examining the impacts of a censored Google search engine in China.

Open Mic, a non-profit representing shareholders worth $3 billion in Google assets, said Google should examine the human rights impact during Dragonfly’s development and not after.

“The Chinese government already employs invasive, data-driven surveillance to track its citizens,” said Joshua Brockwell, an investment communications director at Azzad Asset Management, which supports the resolution. “The potential for it to weaponize data from Google searches could allow the government to expand its human rights abuses, including mass detentions of the Uighur minority.”

Among recent crackdowns, China has come under international pressure in the past year for targeting Uighur Muslims and holding more than a million in detention.

Google opposes the resolution, saying in its proxy statement: “Google has been open about its desire to increase its ability to serve users in China and other countries. We have considered a variety of options for how to offer services in China in a way that is consistent with our mission and have gradually expanded our offerings to consumers in China, including Google Translate.”

A spokesperson for Google told TechCrunch it had “nothing more to add” beyond its proxy statement.

It’s unclear how the vote will go, given the pressure on Google to evaluate the introduction of search into China. In context, the shareholder in the top 10 with the least amount of shares still has $3.9 billion in stock.

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